I recently wrote an article suggesting that it might be time to move away from annual performance reviews. I’m now going to suggest how 360 degree feedback is a useful alternative, though frequently misunderstood and misused.
The premise behind 360 degree feedback is that it provides insight into performance through the perceptions, experiences and perspectives of those you interact with in different capacities within your role. By gaining honest and constructive feedback from ‘above’ (your line manager), ‘below’ (staff under your leadership) and from the side (peers and other stakeholders), you can develop a thorough understanding of your strengths and areas for development.
But here’s the rub. Quite often, this is not what happens, as it falls down in a number of interesting ways. Let’s take each of the perspectives in turn:
Feedback from your line manager
Feedback from your manager may be strongly influenced by his or her needs and your perceived value, rather than being a true reflection of your performance.
As well as this, your manager may have a detailed knowledge of the outcomes of your work, but not how you achieved them. This can lead to partial feedback that focuses on end results and nothing else.
Feedback from your team
Feedback from those you manage may be sanitised by the fear that their comments will be easily traced back to them, leading you to think of them less favourably. The quality of the feedback will be directly related to the openness and honesty of the team culture you have built, and the quality of their relationship with you.
Feedback from peers
Feedback from your peers can be inaccurate and incomplete, as it is shaped significantly by the nature of the relationship. It will depend on how much and to what end you interact with the person, and whether the relationship is purely professional, or also social. Ultimately, it could be distorted by an attempt to influence the relationship to support their interests.
Whoever gives the feedback, it can be easy to rationalise away, pushing blame onto the critic and justifying the situation in a number of ways. For example, you might suggest that the other person is far worse at the task in question, or that they don’t know enough about you to judge anyway.
Using 360 degree feedback effectively
Despite the limitations of receiving feedback from different individuals, together it should form a comprehensive 360 degree view of your performance in all areas of your role.
If you want 3600 feedback to be effective as a tool for enhancing performance, three things are fundamental:
- You have a truly open and honest culture where feedback and sharing of opinions is straightforward and acceptable as the norm. No-one throws a fit and the feedback is welcomed.
- There is true anonymity of feedback that cannot be attributed. No witch hunts afterwards.
- The review provides an accurate assessment of skills, capabilities and behaviour, not just of results or outcomes, by people who have in depth knowledge and experience of the performance.